Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I never imagined that the story of my first proper trip to Europe would have the word 'unfortunate' in its title.

It started off brilliantly. Italy for 4 months, summer time moreover, nothing could be better. The flight to Amsterdam was quite uneventful. I even managed to get some sleep. Normally, I can never fall asleep on a plane. I was feeling good when I got down at the Amsterdam airport. The wait for the connecting flight to Rome was not too long. When I finally reached Rome, I was in high spirits.

Then it started.

No free wireless access at the Rome airport. Never mind, I thought, I can't expect everywhere to be as convenient as Singapore. The three hours waiting for the flight to Catania were the longest hours of my trip. It can't all be good, I told myself. How right I was!

Catania airport! I wait for my baggage for over 45 minutes. In the end, the only people left at the baggage claim area are a few disgruntled travellers and me. I was warned by a friend that some of his friends had lost their baggage while flying with KLM. So, surprisingly, I'm not too angry at my inauspicious arrival in Italy. I wait in the queue patiently and make my lost baggage report. 'There', I think, 'the bad part is over, now for the good stuff'.

I walk out of the airport with just my hand baggage(a knapsack) and go over to the taxi stand. The taxi driver looks at me apologetically and points at a bus-stand nearby. I say 'I want to take the taxi'. He just shakes his head and continues to point at the bus-stand. He, of course, doesn't speak english. So I don't know if there's something wrong with his taxi, or he just doesn't like the look of me. Anyway, I go over to the bus-stand and what looks like a ticket office. The lady there slowly explains that the taxi-drivers are on strike and gives a ticket of the bus that'll take me to my hotel. I thank her for her help and go over to the bus-stop.

The bus arrives and I show the address of my hotel to the driver. He, of course, doesn't know where it is. I think to myself, 'less than three hours here and I've already had enough bad luck to last my entire stay'. Infuriated, I go back the ticket lady. She double-checks her maps & records and says she's certain the bus will go to my hotel. After looking at the map for a while I go back to the bus, convinced that the bus should go near my destination. Amazingly, in the short time I have been gone, the bus-driver recovers his memory and recognizes the address of my hotel. I finally reach my hotel, having experienced the worst series of glitches I have ever faced during a trip.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Another major tournament under Eriksson. Another quarterfinal exit. England's delusions of winning the World Cup came to a jarring halt, against a team coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari, again. If there was any more proof needed of how bad a manager Eriksson is, this match provided it. While Scolari was pacing the touchline, urging on his troops, Eriksson was hiding in the dugout, apparently too scared to see just how badly his team was playing. I think England certainly didnt deserve to be in the semifinals. My only regret is that a team like Portugal, who are one of the leading exponents of unfair play in the world, are in the World cup semis.

But coming back to England, it not really surprising that they are out. And 95% of the blame falls on Erikssoon. I've always maintained that anything that England achieved under Eriksson would be in spite of him, not because of him. In the end, Eriksson proved to be too much of a liability.

He never really understood that just picking eleven big name players doesn't create a good football team. Either you choose a system and pick the players that suit it, or pick the players and put them in system that they fit in. His philosophy of picking big names and not big players has been the undoing of England. The only reason Gerrard and Lampard are so good for their clubs is that they have extremely effective holding midfielders behind them. In five years in charge of England, Eriksson couldnt realize this and still seemed to be puzzled that they couldnt play together. He perisisted with Beckham in spite of it being obvious to the entire world that his presence was hampering the team play.

Then the question of the strikers. Picking only four strikers, two of whom were not even fit and the third was apparently there just to watch and learn, was a huge mistake. How England missed a classic goal-poacher in this tournament! Instead, we got to see Crouch. I have nothing against Crouch, but just looking at him you know that he doesnt belong in a national team. He is the type of striker whose first instinct is to pass the ball, not shoot. He almost never tries to score himself. That left the onus of scoring on the midfielders. And with Gerarrd not at his best and Lampard seemingly unable to put the ball even into an open goal, its no wonder England found it so tough to score.

The only positive out of this fiasco is that Eriksson is finally gone. He has managed to take a bunch of talented footballers and made them look distinctly mediocre, and pocketed a hefty sum in the process. I hope McClaren can do justice to the talent that England have.